Albums of 2009


Dic 13 2009, 1:37

1)Animal CollectiveMerriweather Post Pavilion

A blogger fittingly described it as, “A glittering whirlpool of synthetic sound”. On form, Animal Collective are untouchable. Comparing MPP to their last records, it’s more refined, more accessible, but a step forward in the contemporary world of Indie Pop. I feel they’ve reached their apex of creativity with a sound they’ve been experimenting on since Sung Tongs. It’s certainly a refinement on Strawberry Jam, and it’ll be a benchmark for future electronica records to come. I love its textures, its energy, its desire to be new and original, its flexibility, and its fluency. MPP is a sonic representation of its album cover, it’s vividly mesmerizing. Technically, the rhythms are pretty complex. The harmonies are gorgeous, with much homage to The Beach Boys, owing to Panda Bear. His partnership with Avey Tare on this record works so well (see My Girls). The production is full and meticulous, with layers and layers of drones, filtered synth warbles, and dizzying beats that are rooted in a spaced-out cosmos of psychedelia. What I like most about MPP is its versatility; the music could suit so many different environments - in the bedroom during an afternoon nap, long road journeys at night, or rather conversely, there are songs that wouldn’t stand out of place on the dancefloor. Where MPP is quite approachable for new listeners, their live shows can be quite the opposite and even less audience-friendly, which might drive away listeners - just don’t expect them to play the “hits”. They are usually a mix of blissed-out droning experiments, loops, and the occasional track that you can just about hear under the noise. But experimentation is the secret ingredient to this band. If they played conventional and predictable electropop at their concerts, then this would just label them under ‘dance music’, and I respect them for trying out new ideas in their shows, and pushing boundaries of electronic music.

Despite its electronic-ness, the listening experience feels so very human and it has this organic core that feels somewhat indigenous and authentic. I feel this is down to Geologist and his characteristic ability to generate natural and earthly impressions in his sound manipulating. Credit is also given to Panda Bear’s African tribal chant influences (see Brother Sport) and Avey Tare’s folk vivacity. In the Flowers is a dreamy lullaby that floats and undulates like a smack of jellyfish on LSD doing the salsa, and soars into transcendental bliss when the chorus hits. There are several moments like this in MPP where there is a certain spiritual exploration in the music. For instance, the wall of sound in Also Frightened is so clustered and hypnotic; one could almost dissolve into a deep meditation. The transition of one decade into another is best captured in this song. It was hard to pick one track from this brilliant album. AC are casually known for their talents in sonic craftsmanship, but for me, Also Frightened is a model for modern pop music composition that recognizes the trio as talented songwriters, and pushing boundaries of pop hooks and sonic aesthetics. Allusions to The Beatles and The Beach Boys are humble and effective. The dense textures, complex rhythms and eastern harmonies combined with the effervescent blend of Tare/Bear's interplaying vocals are a tour-de-force. The lyrics could be interpreted as the fears of growing up, or general anxieties of modern society as another decade of uncertain future beckons.

The songs on MPP flow into the other with ease and purity so there is a real conceptual harmony that moulds the music together; the best example of this is from Daily Routine into Bluish. This transition is extended in their live shows for euphoric effect, but on record, it serves as a breather from the denser, rhythmic tracks preceding. With regards to track order, the balance is spot on, but I feel there is hardly a weak track. Returning to the “glittering whirlpool” quote, this largely describes their efforts on reworking Guys Eyes. The evolution from the original (a live demo from a Panda Bear concert, consisting of a sample or two accompanied by Panda Bear vocals and some live mixing) to the album edit, is astounding. The additional layers, melodic counterparts and mysterious noises (all meticulously arranged) are an illustration of MPP’s striking immediacy and a glimpse into Animal Collective’s sound-crafting talents.

This album has surely clinched their territory as the most important band of our time.

Further listening: Fall Be Kind EP, Brother Sport [Single], Summertime Clothes [Single]

2)Bibio - Ambivalence Avenue

Ludicrously catchy tunes and heart-warming harmonies. There is an unusual blend of Simon & Garfunkel folky ballads with old school hip-hop/dub-step/electronica, but it works wonders. The detuned lo-fi quality is the trick that gives Ambivalence Avenue that timeless scratched vinyl feel, with its cut & spliced pop samples moulding together some really sweet tunes. It’s a record that could have come from the 60s, but took a shortcut through the 80s. Boards of Canada fans will like this. Also, have a listen to the brilliant remix album, The Apple And The Tooth, for a sexy remix of All The Flowers.

Further listening: The Apple And The Tooth EP

3)The Horrors - Primary Colours

This one grew on me. It boasts some great songs with excellent production and chunky guitar sounds, evoking the days of My Bloody Valentine and Joy Division. I’m pleased they’ve stepped out of NME’s deathly shadow with this record; they’ve got a good sound and a cool gloomy image. Faris’ vocals are immense and I don’t know how they perform live, but the band just spews confidence with tunes like Sea Within a Sea and I Only Think of You.

4)Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

Dirty Projectors have set the standard for the next decade’s modern rock album; virtuously executed guitar solos and fragmented riffs, complex layers of harmonies and melodies. Avant-Rock? Experimental Indie? Chamber Pop? Afro-Jazz? Bitte Orca is alive and a breath of fresh air right from punchy opener Cannibal Resource, through to the killer combo of Stillness Is the MoveTwo DovesUseful ChamberNo Intention... a run of songs that will be difficult to match by any band of their calibre. Production is lucid and you can just feel every instrument, every note, every slide, and it just hits the sweet spot. There’s so many good things to describe... the dancefloor grooves of Stillness which brilliantly evolve into a swelling string-led coda. Two Doves surpasses Radiohead’s Faust Arp as the most exquisite string-accompanied acoustic guitar song I’ve heard, since the world lost Nick Drake. And then there’s Useful Chamber... pretty much blew my mind when I first heard it. It’s adventurous, stylish, sophisticated, and peppered with intricate melodies and a militaristic beat that tepidly undulates beneath woozy synth waves. The chorus packs a punch that is full of power and urgency, and everything is going swimmingly until halfway through, when the music suffers a coma, and morphs into a mind-melting wail from the angels. It's unexpected but utterly brilliant - I've never heard anything like it.

Further listening: Temacula Sunrise EP, Stillness Is the Move [Single]

5)Reigns - The House on the Causeway

The House on the Causeway is a confident and well-crafted mix of experimental electronica and post-rock. It’s an exquisitely beautiful and dark record full of melancholic piano arrangements, attention-to-detail electronics and slow broody guitar riffs that recall Massive Attack and Radiohead. It’s a close depiction of living in remote isolation as the music is quite reflective and immersive, but underneath looms a terrible nightmare. Where there are vocals, most often they are sinister, emotionless and monotone – to great effect. The combination of melodic piano interludes (reminiscent of Donnie Darko), waiflike guitar tones and glitchy noises build an air of reclusion and loneliness, which verges on creepiness, particularly in Take It Down. Mab Crease and The Black Cramp are songs that demonstrate their compulsion to break out of experimentation/soundscapes and explore the sonic spectrum (which I feel this album needs some more of), and songwriting, but this record excels in its softness and fragility, particularly in the loneliness of the narrated lyrics and the gentle piano interludes. The mystery and ambiguity that surrounds the band (a common theme in the underground electronica scene) is something that draws intrigue; they call themselves “Operatives A & B” on their website), but it’s a method that this record takes great value in. The ghostly piano arpeggios in the disorientating Vaulted captures a scene of an enchanted forest, and Mirrors at Night is a delicate acoustic guitar-picked reverie evoking the horrors of the night. Reigns drag you into their dystopian world with House on the Causeway, and it feels like a record that’s been uncovered years into the future. Like a fog, the album begins with looped piano chords settling in and establishing a dark ambience, and finishes with the same but altered chords, as they disperse and fade out.

6)Asobi SeksuHush

This is a dreamy pop album from New Yorkers Asobi Seksu. The soft floating textures are well complimented by some truly beautiful vocals from Yuki Chikudate. Her melodies soar above the pedal-driven guitars with grace and elegance, and her whole far-eastern cultivation brings an mysterious allure to the music. The crunchier songs like In the Sky, Familiar Light, and Meh No Mae are the most enjoyable songs, but the most immediate standout song for me, is Me & Mary, which is hugely fun and exciting – any teenager would love it. Cocteau Twins/My Bloody Valentine influences are only occasionally distinguished, but apart from that, it’s a brilliant record.

Further listening: Transparence EP

7)Son of A Bricklayer/ShitaoLa Jetée

This Ground Floor Records release is a fusion of two of its musicians, Song of a Bricklayer/Shitao who have written music inspired by 962 film La Jetée (or The Pier), which is a 28-minute black and white film by Chris Marker. Constructed almost entirely from still photos, it tells the story of a post-nuclear war experiment in time travel. Ageless downbeat trip-hop... one of those rare gems.

8)Crippled Black Phoenix - 200 Tons of Bad Luck

My favourite post-rock album of the year. Time of ye life is a stirring piece of music that contains a brilliant audio clip of Evel Knievel being wise and philosophical. Other tracks such as Wendigo and Crossing the Bar are ethereal and captivating; it compensates for a lack of A Silver Mt. Zion in 2009.

9)Tosca - No Hassle

More downbeat electronica that is a suitable cohort to last year’s Quiet Village, except this one feels effortless because it doesn’t attract much attention. It just flows like an autumn breeze and you hardly notice it until it’s there, but you feel its impression. Imprints of Jazz and Blues are here and there, but the natural ‘acoustic’ sound is what brings these soundscapes to a level of high technical quality. No Hassle is not groundbreaking. It’s one of those records that feels the body’s rhythmic pulsations and helps you through the night, comforting you like a million glistening stars, or a burning fireplace.

10)Broadcast & The Focus GroupBroadcast & the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age

Spooky and beautiful. This otherworldly electronic effort from Broadcast is an entrancing blend of 60s psychedelia and retro-futuristic pop that draws influence from the sample-splicing BBC Radiophonic Workshop. On a few listens, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing; it sounds so mysterious, save Trish Keenan’s delightful vocals, their experiments in sound design are carefully constructed, and the haunting mini-compositions that link the songs help a great deal to shape the album structurally. At times resembling The BeatlesRevolution #9, this is as close to an exploration into a world of dreams as music can get.

11)Taken by Trees - East Of Eden

12)David SylvianManafon

13)Sonic Youth - The Eternal

14)Wild Beasts - Two Dancers

15)Atlas Sound - Logos

16)Blue Roses - Blue Roses

17)Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

18)PJ Harvey & John Parish - A Woman A Man Walked By

19)Major Lazer - Guns Don't Kill People.. Lazers Do

20)Grizzly BearVeckatimest


21)Neon Indian - Psychic Chasms
22)Susumu YokotaMother
23)Andrew Weatherall - A Pox On The Pioneers
24)Evangelista - Prince Of Truth
25)Empire of the Sun - Walking on a Dream
26)Black Moth Super Rainbow - Eating Us
27)The Twilight Sad - Forget the Night Ahead
28)The Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want
29)Hudson MohawkeButter
31)Various - Warp20
32)Mount Eerie - Wind's Poem/White Stag EP
33)Nosaj Thing - Drift
34)Riceboy Sleeps - Riceboy Sleeps
35)Health - GET COLOR
36)Kings of Convenience - Declaration of Dependence
37)Julie Doiron - I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day
38)Jamie Vex'd - In System Travel EP
39)Wooden BirdsMagnolia
40)The Invisible - The Invisible
41)Seeland - Tomorrow Today/Captured EP
42)A.A. BondyWhen The Devil’s Loose
43)Jóhann Jóhannsson - And in the endless pause there came the sound of bees
44)Bat for Lashes - Two Suns
45)Gary War - Horribles Parade
46)Boys NoizePower
47)Gui Boratto - Take My Breath Away
48)Various - Echodub Loves (Vol. 01)
49)Telefon Tel AvivImmolate Yourself
50)Various – Dark Was The Night


51)The Mountain Goats - the Life of the World to Come
52)Pastels & Tenniscoats - Two Sunsets
53)Clint Mansell - Moon
54)Bell Orchestre - As Seen Through Windows
55)Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs
57)jj - jj No.2
58)Mr. Oizo - Pourriture EP
59)Thee Oh SeesHelp/In the Shadow of the Giant EP
60)Volcano Choir - Unmap
61)The Field - Yesterday & Today
62)Sally Shapiro - My Guilty Pleasure
63)Animal Hospital -Good or Plenty, Streets + Avenues
64)Tadeo - Contacto
65)The Dead WeatherHorehound
66)Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Twice Born Men
67)High Places & Soft Circle - Split 12"
69)DM Stith - Heavy Ghost
70)Jon Brion - Synecdoche, New York
71)Mos Def - The Ecstatic
72)Clark - Totems Flare
73)Twin Sister - Vampires with Dreaming Kids EP
74)Sparklehorse & Fennesz - In The Fishtank EP
75)Pantha du Prince - This Bliss
76)Humcrush - Rest At Worlds End
77)Yacht - See Mystery Lights
79)Woodpigeon - Treasury Library Canada
80)Sufjan Stevens/Osso- Run Rabbit Run


  • schoppenaas

    Interesting top 80 with an original top 10! I particularly liked Bibio and Asobi Seksu but I see there's still a lot to discover... No Fever Ray for you? What happened?

    Gen 17 2010, 15:36
  • reice

    twin sister's ep wasnt an 09 release!

    Feb 9 2010, 21:46
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